This Time, Artest Deal Is for Real

Times Staff Writer

After suspending Ron Artest on Dec. 6, using all 19 shopping days before Christmas and 31 more before next Christmas, the Indiana Pacers finally found a new home for their controversial forward, sending him to Sacramento for Peja Stojakovic.

"We're gamblers," Sacramento co-owner Gavin Maloof said Wednesday night in New York before the Kings' game against the Knicks, "so we're going to take a chance on him."

As usual with anything involving Artest, it wasn't simple. The deal was agreed to Tuesday but looked as if it would fall through when Artest's agent, Mark Stevens, told the Kings his client didn't want to go there.

Stevens announced that Artest "did not want to be traded to Sacramento weeks ago and he does not want to be traded to Sacramento now."

Meanwhile, Stojakovic, who was told to stay at the Kings' hotel in Philadelphia for Tuesday's game, which they ultimately lost to the 76ers, announced that he, too, felt "kind of disrespected."

Wednesday morning Artest, 26, was summoned to the office of Pacer President Donnie Walsh. The team has been paying his $6.8-million salary but there was no guarantee that would have continued had Artest refused to report.

Within hours, the Pacers announced that the deal had been completed.

The Pacers' search went on for seven weeks and involved the Lakers and Clippers. With Laker Coach Phil Jackson keen to get Artest, General Manager Mitch Kupchak called the Pacers to say they were interested. However, owner Jerry Buss reportedly opposed putting Lamar Odom into any offer and there were no further talks.

The Clippers tried to get Artest for weeks, first offering a package that included reserve forward Chris Wilcox but no starters, turning down the Pacers' request for Corey Maggette.

However, in early January, when the Clippers learned Maggette's injury wouldn't let him return until March -- if at all this season -- they made him available.

However, the Pacers then pulled back for the same reason, the uncertainty about Maggette.

Stojakovic, a 28-year-old two-time All-Star, is one of the game's great shooters. However, he'll be a free agent in the summer and his game has declined in recent seasons.

With the departure of his mentor, Vlade Divac, a great passer who had always found Stojakovic, there were problems getting the ball where he needed it from -- Chris Webber, before he left, and Mike Bibby.

Stojakovic's scoring average peaked at 24.2 points in 2003-04, dropped to 20.1 last season and to 16.5 this season.

Artest played in the 2004 All-Star game. One of the league's rising stars, he's a high scorer and one of the most feared defenders when he's on the floor, which has been rarer and rarer recently.

He played seven games last season and was suspended for the balance by Commissioner David Stern after his charge into the stands started a brawl at Auburn Hills, Mich.

Nevertheless, the Pacers gave Artest one more chance. He got 16 games in before saying he wanted to be traded because he didn't like Coach Rick Carlisle's offense. The team said it would accommodate Artest, suspending him with pay. When Artest asked to return a week later, the Pacers turned him down.

Artest played only two full seasons for the Pacers, who acquired him from Chicago in the 2001-02 season, but they'll never forget him.

In 2002-03, his first full season in Indiana, he was suspended six times, five by the league, once by the team. In celebrated incidents, he squared off on the sideline with Miami Coach Pat Riley and destroyed a TV in a hallway of New York's Madison Square Garden.

In one of his periodic efforts to reform, he stayed out of trouble the next season and the Pacers finished first in the East. Artest was good right up until the closing minutes of the last game of the East finals, when his flagrant foul put Detroit's Richard Hamilton on the line for the free throws that put the Pistons ahead to stay and eliminated the Pacers.

Before last season's brawl, Artest had shaken up the Pacers by asking for a two-week vacation, saying he was tired. He also said he wanted to promote his record label's new CD.

After the melee, several of Artest's teammates, including Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson, asked management to bring him back.

This season's request to be traded ended all support Artest had left. O'Neal, among others, said the Pacers shouldn't take Artest back. General Manager Larry Bird said he felt "betrayed."

All that remained after that were the details.



Head to head

Season scoring averages for Ron Artest and Peja Stojakovic. Artest spent his first two seasons in Chicago before being traded to Indiana in the 2001-02 season. Stojakovic has played all eight of his seasons in Sacramento:

*--* STOJAKOVIC SEASON G PTS 98-99 48 8.4 99-00 74 11.9 00-01 75 20.4 01-02 71 21.2 02-03 72 19.2 03-04 81 24.2 04-05 66 20.1 05-06 31 16.5 Totals 518 18.3


*--* ARTEST SEASON G PTS 99-00 72 12.0 00-01 76 11.9 01-02 55 13.2 02-03 69 15.5 03-04 73 18.3 04-05 7 24.6 05-06 16 19.4 Totals 368 14.6


Source: Associated Press

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